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From AJR,   August/September 2006  issue

Hold That Obit   

The nightly network newscasts, often depicted as passé, face the future with a trio of new anchors and bold plans for the wireless world.

Related reading:   Nightly News Obituaries

By Rachel Smolkin
     

If, in the annals of conventional wisdom, newspapers are dinosaurs doomed to extinction, then the nightly newscasts are wooly mammoths lumbering just as certainly toward oblivion.

But the equivalent of a tectonic plate shift has disrupted, slowed and perhaps even reversed this natural order. Within the last two years, vacant anchor spots on the premier newscasts of all three broadcast networks have changed the (albeit grossly exaggerated) story line of death. The Ice Age is thawing.

"The conventional wisdom of television was the morning shows were king, and the evening news shows were a dying breed. I think you've seen in the last couple of months a series of points to counter that," says Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC's recently renamed "World News with Charles Gibson." He cites the much-touted a.m. to p.m. switches by Gibson on his network and by Katie Couric from NBC to CBS. "What has happened over the past couple months proves that the evening newscasts by and large are the editorial spines of the news divisions."

Nightly news is hot again, if hotness can be measured by the number of inches devoted to the anchor race in the nation's newspapers and magazines. Suddenly, the evening newscasts have what their morning print counterparts can only dream of: buzz and opportunity.

What to do with this opportunity is less clear. Like newspapers (see "Adapt or Die," June/July), the nightly news is struggling to hold onto its place in a fast-changing media landscape. Its leaders must figure out how to stem the decline in viewers while embracing a multimedia, multiplatform world.

Behind the excitement surrounding the Brian-Katie-Charlie smackdown — or, if you prefer, the reinvigorated competition among three heavyweight newsgathering organizations — lie fundamental questions about the direction of the nightly newscasts, which together attract some 27 million viewers, depending on the night and the season. Does the nightly news need to be reshaped? Is a makeover practical, given the constraints in time and structure? Is it smart, given the loyalties, expectations and habits of the sizeable audience that remains?

Or would the networks be better served by having their new anchors — Brian Williams, 47, in NBC's anchor chair since December 2004; Gibson, 63, in ABC's since May; and Couric, 49, debuting in CBS' in September — lend their fresh personalities to proven programs and reserving bold innovations for news delivery via the Web, cell phones, iPods and as yet unimagined wireless devices?

This "is a period of enormous innovation, but it's going to be innovation in delivery rather than content," says television analyst Andrew Tyndall, who publishes the Tyndall Report, a weekly newsletter monitoring broadcast TV news. "It would be an inappropriate use of their resources to spend all their time reinventing the 'CBS Evening News,' when they really should be spending all their time reinventing how news gets delivered to people in different ways."

In its annual report, "The State of the News Media 2006," the Project for Excellence in Journalism describes network news as "standing at the edge of a new-media revolution where information is traded online, over cell phones, by bloggers and even vloggers" — the video equivalent to bloggers (see "Rocketboom!" June/July). "Probably the most interesting question moving into 2006 was whether new faces in the anchor chairs signaled a new kind of network news, in particular one where the TV set is not the only serious focus."

Matea Gold, an entertainment and media writer for the Los Angeles Times, says the networks are hoping to seize the nation's attention with their new anchors while trying to anticipate and accommodate the desires of online viewers. "What's fascinating about this time period and the trajectory of the evening news is it's an incredibly fluid time, and nobody knows what's going to happen," she says. "It's an incredibly exciting time, and a little nerve-racking for those involved."

When Brian Williams stepped into the anchor chair occupied for more than 21 years by Tom Brokaw, he decided to tinker with the program opener. He incorporated the voices of the six legendary NBC News anchors who had preceded him and altered the opening shot of 30 Rockefeller Plaza from a straight pan-up of NBC's headquarters to a pan-up at a slight angle.

As Williams and former NBC News President Neal Shapiro recall the debut of the revamped opener, some viewers noticed the change — and hated it. "I swear to you we had dire [feedback], from not many viewers, but a couple," says Williams, who is also the newscast's managing editor. "It's evidence as to how small changes can rock someone's world."

And a warning, perhaps, for those tempted to revolutionize the evening news. "I think any large change in format would threaten to scare away and alienate the largest single news audience in America," says ratings leader Williams. "With 600 digital channels, with all the sources we've given people to go find their news, it is remarkable and a real tribute to these evening newscasts that some nights we're carving up a pie of 30 million Americans. So I don't think it's broken. I'm very bullish on the genre and the format."

Noting the volume of "noise" in the ether, Williams adds that "there's something to be said for taking a breath and having a reasoned, well-thought-out summation of the day. We get that we're not telling people for the first time the stories of the day. They understand that. They're coming to us for a recognized brand name, a family of correspondents, people that they know and trust."

NBC News President Steve Capus, a former executive producer of the "Nightly News," says the newscast offers context and unique reporting. He cites NBC's new Beirut bureau, ongoing investments in its investigative unit and Williams' commitment to the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina as examples of this distinctive coverage. In April, Williams and the "Nightly News" won a Peabody Award for "extraordinary coverage and analysis" of Katrina's aftermath.

"The days of just doing the headline-news recap of the day are over, because people are bombarded with the news of the day," Capus says. "They know what's going on. We think people come to the 'Nightly News' to find out why something has happened."

At ABC, Williams' counterpart also is a nightly news traditionalist. "I think it's going to be very much the same for quite some period of time," Gibson says. "I've been a consumer of evening news programs for 50 years... They are the best summation in a half hour of the day's news that we can provide, and I think they ought to be that."

As part of that summation, the nightly news tries to add deeper analysis to the day's headlines. Once ads and promos are factored in, "How much of the world can we cover?" Executive Producer Banner asks. "We know that we won't be able to get everything on. Let's find the six or seven stories that we think are important enough, and try to do them in such a way that they are different from the way they have been presented in other places." The decision by "World News" to devote its entire broadcast to the Iraq war on the third anniversary of the conflict is one example.

Banner describes the structure of nightly news as a tricky one for innovation, and not just because viewers tune in with certain expectations. "Look, the format is very difficult," he says. "There's a limited amount of time, and there's a commercial schedule within the broadcast that is tough to negotiate around to mix up in any significant way. We are clearly going forward. I don't rule out anything, and I wouldn't rule out trying new things."

But he does rule out one idea that has long been popular among industry observers, and one raised by several academics interviewed for this article: moving the nightly newscast to the coveted primetime spot of 10 p.m. and expanding it to an hour, perhaps as some combination of newscast and newsmagazine. "I'm here to tell you the evening news is not changing its time," Banner says. "It's never going to happen. They should get it out of their heads."

"World News" did briefly modify its format in December by naming two anchors, Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff, with the idea that one would stay in the studio and the other would travel. "I think it would have worked, mostly because they were the right people in the right jobs," Banner says. "It wasn't built because we all of a sudden wanted to have two people sitting next to each other at a desk. The program was built on two people who complemented each other, were terrific reporters, who could travel around the world."

But the experiment ended abruptly when Woodruff was seriously injured in Iraq, and Vargas announced that she was pregnant. Gibson is anchoring solo. "If you can prove to me that one plus one is equal to more than two, I will buy it," Gibson says. "I think in the Huntley-Brinkley era, it was." But today, with satellites enabling live reports from around the world, Gibson says the focus should be on the correspondents. "My idea of a perfect newscast is just when you're going from one reporter to the other to the other."

ABC launched a West Coast edition of its nightly newscast when Woodruff and Vargas debuted, but it disappeared along with the two-anchor format.

At CBS, President and CEO Leslie Moonves raised a hullabaloo among media writers in January 2005 by musing that instead of an "evolution," the network might opt for a "revolution." He postulated that the news paradigm of the future might not be "the voice-of-God single anchor" format that has ruled the evening news for so many years.

Couric's style may not evoke a deity on the mountaintop, but she will anchor solo. The format will look at least somewhat familiar, although she sounds more eager than her competitors to embrace change. "I think there should probably be a slight shift in its mission and goals because the world has changed so much in terms of the way people get their news," says Couric, who will debut as the "CBS Evening News" anchor September 5 and also is the newscast's managing editor. "I don't think it's going to undergo a revolution, but it would be foolhardy not to acknowledge those changes" while still "maintaining the integrity and the character of the newscast."

Couric, who hopes to lead her newscast out of its longtime third-place status, approaches the revolution question as a matter of degree. "You can cover the news of the day, but it doesn't necessarily have to be as formulaic as the newscasts have been for the last 20 or 30 years even. There's been a sort of tight format," a one-minute-thirty-second voice-over, a sound bite, a tease. "Some of those things can be very slightly rejiggered."

In early July, Couric declined to discuss specific changes, but as one example she suggested a more in-depth report on the lead story of the day and an effort to offer greater context and perspective on that story. When a soldier questioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December about inadequate equipment, "perhaps you could show that story and then [explore] why isn't there greater protection? Or, what is the holdup to getting some greater protection?" When Iran tests a nuclear-capable missile, the story offers a chance to delve into why it's dangerous for Iran to have such weapons, and what is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons all about?

"Sometimes we operate on a level that assumes people understand complicated stories more than they might," Couric says. "I'm not talking about dumbing down the news. I'm talking about making it more accessible and understandable... It goes along with the whole notion of not being the authoritarian anchor person, but saying, 'This is what's going on, let's try to understand it better together.'"

CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus says "it's probably better to evolve the newscast," adding that he believes Moonves' remarks were misconstrued. "Our goal is first to get a larger share of the existing audience. If we can broaden the audience we have and get some younger viewers involved, that would be great."

Asked how to attract younger viewers without alienating older loyalists, McManus replies that if "you define younger viewers as 45-to-55-year-olds, I think that's very doable. If you define it as the 18-to-34-year-old demographic, it's unreasonable and probably doesn't make a lot of sense. With their lifestyle, they're probably not going to watch the newscast at 6:30, and if they did watch the newscast, it would be such an incredible departure from what we're doing now that it would alienate our core audience."

Former NBC News President Shapiro, who taught during the past year at Columbia University and at Tufts University, says it's easy to "talk a big game about totally blowing things up," but a drastic overhaul may drive off older viewers and fail to attract new ones. "I think there's a middle ground between tinkering at the edges — 'Let's change the music a bit, brighten the set' — and 'Let's blow it up; let's do the whole thing in Swedish,' " he says. "Those shows will find a range that they feel comfortable with."

Ed Fouhy, who worked for all three networks during his 24-year career as a producer and network executive, says that the evening news audience, "despite the Cassandras, has been remarkably slow to erode" at a time of tremendous competition from cable and the Internet. "It sends an important signal to the stewards: 'Don't fool around; we like what we see.' I think they have to innovate, don't get me wrong, but I think they have to do it in a way that is slow, does not disrupt the audience, does not say to the audience, 'We're going in a radically different direction.'"

In Fouhy's view, the "big story is the audience for network television has eroded. I think a lot of times media critics make the mistake of focusing only on the news audiences. The evening news has held up remarkably well at a time when viewers for all network offerings have slid, and at the same time there are 24-hour options on cable that people can watch."

The nightly newscasts also benefit other network news programs and local affiliates' newscasts by supplying a recognizable, and marketable, brand that they can tap into. "I think they have a significance that goes beyond profitability pure and simple, and they tend to be an element of the branding of the stations and the networks," says James Goss, a media and entertainment analyst at Barrington Research, a Chicago-based brokerage firm.

Edward Atorino, a media analyst at the New York-based brokerage firm Benchmark Co., describes the nightly newscasts as "very profitable." He says that "news is a big moneymaker for the networks despite the lucrative salaries they pay to the anchors," although sinking ratings "have a direct impact on that bottom line because it affects prices they can charge" the advertisers for time.

Many TV observers — a veritable chorus of Cassandras — cite the sagging ratings in arguing that dramatic change is essential. Asked what the networks' anchor decisions say about the future of the nightly news, Craig Allen, the coordinator of broadcast news at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, replies: "What it really boils down to from the viewers' perspective: 'Meet the new network news, same as the old network news.' .. As long as blockbuster changes don't occur, the networks are going to continue to shrivel as a force in the delivery of news. It's very questionable anymore what role those newscasts play in informing Americans."

In 1969, the year Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon and the historic peak of nightly news audience, the three newscasts were watched in 50 percent of American homes. Ratings have fallen 62 percent since 1969 and 48 percent since 1980, the year that CNN debuted, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's 2006 report on the news media. The study notes that the "continuous decline in audience makes the size of the audience by itself less reassuring." The pace of decline accelerated last year despite an intensely busy news period, although under interim anchor Bob Schieffer's leadership, the "CBS Evening News" saw its audience and ratings rise for the first time in years.

Schieffer's experience and comfort in the anchor chair steadied his news division, which had been demoralized by a scathing panel report about its handling of unauthenticated memos allegedly documenting President Bush's National Guard service. "I would say that Bob Schieffer is the antithesis of the voice of God," McManus says. "Bob Schieffer delivers the news as if he was speaking to you in the room," and Couric will continue in that same vein.

Joe Foote, dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, says Schieffer's style of interacting more with correspondents created livelier exchanges and demonstrated that viewers respond well to spontaneity. Nevertheless, he says, the nightly newscasts should avoid the freewheeling talk and opinion that often substitute for newsgathering on the cable networks. "I like well-edited, stylized reports that are well-written, that are thoughtful, and you just don't do that off the top of your head. I think that's one thing network news delivers that its competitors can't, and I would hate to see it dissolve into a more ad hoc format that doesn't give it the chance to shine the way that it has," Foote says. "If they can get the balance right without sacrificing their birthright, I think that would be positive."

Hub Brown, chair of the communications department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and an associate professor of broadcast journalism there, says the networks don't have much reason to shake up their newscasts, although he wishes they would to prepare for the future. "The rumors of the demise of the big national newscasts are greatly exaggerated," Brown says, noting their combined audience still dwarfs that of cable news. "They really should be thinking of radical change and putting a process in motion where that change could take place, but they're not going to be doing that until they absolutely have to. They'll have to be pushed to be at a near crisis point with the ratings, and I don't know that they're at a crisis point right now."

Brown would like to see the nightly newscasts do a more thorough job covering parts of the country outside Washington, New York and Chicago. He'd also enjoy a better mix of longer and shorter pieces to break up the traditional format just a bit, with a goal of bringing in younger viewers. (Couric says that's just the kind of mix she's talking about.) "How do you get young people to watch?" he asks. "There's not a lot of serious effort on the part of the networks and really on the part of the cable networks... To really begin to gain consumers of news and get the next generation to become news consumers, they really need to repackage the news differently from the beginning."

Gail Shister, the Philadelphia Inquirer's TV columnist, says that despite declarations about new paradigms from Moonves and ABC News President David Westin, the choices the networks ultimately made about filling their anchor spots represent a "throwback" to the traditional model. She qualifies that a bit with respect to CBS and Couric. "You could argue that it's traditional in the sense that it's a traditional, white anchor, but of course being female is a huge thing," she says.

In Shister's view, the network executives "have essentially conceded that the evening news form is going to go away at some point. The viewers skew so old, and as with newspapers, when the viewers die they are not replaced by younger viewers. I think that was the big reason behind putting a Charlie Gibson on." The philosophy, she says, is one of "Let's give them what they want and focus the younger talent on new media, because that's the future, and in many ways, that's the present."

Not surprisingly, Brian Williams disagrees with the assessment that the nightly news is doomed. "I would ask my friend Gail to go back through the clippings through the last 30 years and dig up the other evening news obits that have been rendered moot by the ongoing success of the evening news," he says. (AJR took his advice; see "Nightly News Obituaries".)

But the nightly news increasingly is embracing the new-media world. Shister, who has covered the television beat for 23 years, says the pace of technological innovation is dizzying. "That's just mind-boggling to me, how fast everything is changing," she says. "It's a whole new reality, and you better get on the bus."

Along with Yahoo! News and CNN.com, MSNBC.com — the site NBC shares with its cable news sibling in partnership with Microsoft — is one of the three most popular Internet news venues, and it is by far the most-viewed of the three network sites, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

MSNBC.com offers a well-traveled platform for experimentation. In May 2005, Williams started a blog, "The Daily Nightly", which offers a bit of color about the behind-the-scenes newsgathering and also serves to promote the broadcast. In November 2005, NBC began posting the "Nightly News" in its entirety on MSNBC.com at 10 p.m. EST weeknights. On May 25, the network announced that it would sell video news and documentary programming on Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store; among the offerings is Williams' first-person account of covering Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath (the "Nightly News" also can be downloaded free from iTunes).

"I believe that we want to stay relevant in people's lives," NBC News President Capus says. "If that means we offer 'Nightly News' content on iPods via iTunes, fantastic. If that means people are watching at midnight after they took a business flight to another city..that's fantastic, too."

In January, ABC's "World News" debuted a 15-minute Webcast that airs live on abcnews.com every day at 3 p.m. and is updated throughout the afternoon. "The ambitious goal was to spread the rigors of 'World News Tonight' throughout the day," Banner says. As an example of its success, he notes "World News Now" was downloaded more than a million times during one week in late May and is often the most downloaded newscast on iTunes. Banner describes the Webcast as a product of "World News" but a little more technology-centered, a "little more eclectic in pop culture matters..but it still gives you Iraq; you still get some Sudan."

While conventional wisdom holds that consumers watch more news as they get older, Banner foresees an increasing number turning to Web-based, rather than television-based, news sources. But he adds: "We have to be doing both extremely well. The fact of the matter is at the moment our broadcast dwarfs any audience that we get on the Web, and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future."

Gibson describes his Webcast as heavy on Internet and business news and "tailored for people who are technologically more savvy than I." He says a Wall Street friend of his downloads it onto his iPod and watches it while he takes the bus home. The anchor predicts newsgathering organizations such as his will become accustomed to disseminating the information they gather in many different forums (he resists talking about "platforms," the industry buzzword du jour), but they're still figuring out how to make such efforts profitable. "How do we make the Internet pay? How do we make the Webcast pay?" are questions that will guide ABC News and its rivals as they try to market their core reporting in creative ways to lure new viewers.

In July 2005, CBS debuted a major expansion of CBSNews.com. The "cable bypass," as it's described by CBS Digital Media President Larry Kramer (unlike NBC, CBS has no cable television counterpart), offers an abbreviated edition of the CBS "Evening News," but its focus is a sleek array of menu offerings allowing viewers to choose from a wealth of video reports and encouraging them to build their own newscast. CBS also launched "Public Eye," a blog designed to provide greater transparency about the network's newsgathering process (see Drop Cap, October/November 2005).

While CBSNews.com remained the least-viewed of the three network sites in early summer, its innovations have earned praise from industry observers. In May it won an EPpy Award, sponsored by Editor & Publisher and MediaWeek magazines, for best TV network or cable site.

"To me, just as an outsider viewing it, I think that they're superior in the way they've grasped the significance of the Web as a way to certainly broaden their base of viewers, to find a new source of revenue and to find a different form more in keeping with 21st century lifestyles," says Fouhy, who in 1999 founded stateline.org, a Web site that covers state government.

Tyndall calls CBS the "most advanced" in terms of unbundling its newscast into individual stories and offering ample user-friendly video. "The real shot in the arm at CBS that they got, which really, I think, confirmed them in their feeling that they're on the right track, was not in their newscast but when they did the NCAAs this March," streaming free live video of the early rounds of the basketball tournament.

Kramer and CBS News and Sports President McManus agree with this assessment. McManus says the "biggest live Internet event in history" taught them to jump on any opportunity. Kramer describes the success in attracting advertisers for the tournament as a groundbreaking moment for advertising on the Web, calling it "the biggest planned advertising moment ever" online.

The next challenge for Kramer's team is how best to use Couric in the digital realm. In mid-June, Kramer talked excitedly — if a bit vaguely — about ambitious plans to showcase Couric's talent on the Web. "What makes the Internet tremendous is its interactivity," he says. "The idea that we would use the Internet for something other than just a linear broadcast is where we're hoping she could go. We want her to interact with people; we want her to interact with sources. What's so wonderful about her is people relate to her... To the extent that we can even further humanize her and the newsgathering process, I think, the better."

By having her blog, as Williams does? "No," Kramer laughs. "Blogging's the easiest thing, and we have a lot of people blogging already. Could blogging be part of what she does? Sure. That depends a lot on how she's comfortable communicating." But Kramer says he's thinking bigger. "We definitely want to use this as a chance to push the envelope a little bit. Hopefully the things we do aren't things you're going to see in other places."

Asked if she plans to blog, Couric replied: "Possibly. In a different kind of way, to be determined. I don't think it's going to be 'Deep Thoughts By Katie Couric,' but obviously we want to encourage as much transparency as possible." She hopes to create a dialogue with her audience and describes the Internet as an "important partner," but she adds one caveat. "If you care about journalism, you don't want the technology to dictate the content. And content is still critically important for the purest of reasons: wanting to have an informed populace who is engaged in the world around them."

Cory Bergman, director of digital media for the NBC affiliate KING-TV and for NorthWest Cable News in Seattle, is the editor of Lost Remote, a blog that covers how technology is changing television. "I think it's just amazing how quickly the networks have adapted to the Web, and they have pushed a lot of content, not only repurposed content but original content," he says. "As far as where they go from here, for me, I always tell everyone, the Web is not TV. We need to start creating content that's tailored for the Web and tailored for wireless that's not just repurposed or reworked television."

Bergman says MSNBC.com led its competitors as the first television network to delve into creating original stories for the Web. He singles out its yearlong series, "Rising From Ruin: Two Towns Rebuild After Katrina", which documents the story of Katrina's aftermath through the Mississippi coast towns of Bay St. Louis and Waveland. He also praises CBSNews.com's strides in the last year, citing its original report "GenTech," which explores how technology and teens intersect.

"The first step is, 'What do we have resources-wise that we can put online? What things have we shot that did not make the cut to get on TV that we can offer as raw video?'" Bergman says. "The next step is toughest: 'What can we create from scratch that's tailored for the Web, that's made for a Web audience, that doesn't abandon our core strengths of who we are and what [we] do.'"

Analyst Andrew Tyndall calls television in its present incarnation a "dying form" in a world of rapid transformation. "So even if you made the perfect television news, it would still disappear, because television is disappearing," he says. "What we call television is going to be so totally different. It isn't going to be a thing that's broadcast through a network of affiliates through a television's rabbit-ear antennas."

Yet television news, and particularly the nightly news, continues to inform and comfort the nation in times of crisis — a presidential election tossed to the Supreme Court, an unfathomable terrorism strike, a devastating hurricane. And therein, perhaps, lies its salvation and staying power. "You do need the anchor. You need the anchor's experience; you need the anchor's gravitas..and you need television," Tyndall says. "It turns out that when they knocked down the World Trade Center, you actually want to hear about that on television; you don't want to hear about it online." (See "Anchoring the Nation," November 2001.)

Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute's broadcast and online group leader, takes much the same view: that despite the need for technological innovation, the nightly news possesses a special quality that may not transfer easily to other forms. "In the future, networks are going to have to think about wireless delivery in ways they haven't in the past," Tompkins says. "People are on the go. They're just not available to be in front of the TV the way they were." Increasingly, viewers expect to access the news they want, when they want it. "The evening newscast has that going against it... The consumer is being acclimated to the idea that it's all about them."

But in an era centered on the individual, the nightly news still evokes a sense of community and familiarity. "The evening news and the morning news, but particularly the evening news, is part of the American experience," Tompkins says. "It's homogenizing. You can travel anywhere in the country and flip on the news and see a familiar face delivering the news in a familiar way. In a time of crisis, in a time of 9/11, in a time of Katrina, in the opening days of the Iraq war, people don't gather around the Internet.. They watch TV and talk about the images."

The role the nightly news anchors fill in historic moments is important — and their ability to succeed is a question that cannot fully be answered until those turning points arrive. "The news executives have so much pressure on them to try to do something that will not only draw audience and revenue today, but have shelf life for years to come," Tompkins says. "You're banking the whole network's reputation, basically, on this individual. And it is a huge decision. And, truly, you never really know how it's going to pay off until you end up with a catastrophic story when there is no script."

The anchors fill another important role: setting the tone for their news divisions. While the anchor's impact on the daily newscast tends to be exaggerated, the naming of a fresh anchor at each network cannot "be overstated in terms of being an impetus to get all three of these newscasts out of the mood of stagnation that they'd gotten themselves into," Tyndall says.

He believes morale is far better among the network news divisions than what he observed five years ago, when they acted as though they were on the defensive with cable competitors Fox News Channel and CNN. Many thought network news "would just shuffle off quietly into the sunset," Tyndall says. "There's no evidence that they're thinking like that now. They're all making decisions as if they're going to be around in 15 years."

NBC News President Capus says the "Nightly News" reflects his "blood, sweat and tears," and he's very proud of it. As one small example, he mentions a heartrending May 26 piece by correspondent Richard Engel about the forgotten orphans of Baghdad. "I believe there should be a place for a story like that on the network schedule, and I believe there always will be," he says.

Or, as Brian Williams puts it: "We're not going anywhere."